Earlier this week I attended a Post Secret event and in the spirit of sharing secrets I thought I’d share some of my own. I supposed some of the below are not really secrets but rather random facts about myself. Some are common questions people ask while others are experiences I have had and the rest are my thoughts to share… Enjoy and please feel free to share your random thoughts about mine listed below or just about something entirely random!
Nationality/ Background: I was born in Singapore and lived in a whole bunch of different places growing up because of my dad’s job. We’ve lived in the US, Guam and Vietnam.
Languages: I pretty much only speak English. I can understand and speak and tiny bit of Mandarin but that is about it. I have 2 accents – a Singaporean one and a generic Australian/American one. I can’t help it. I just switch naturally when I am talking to people from that particular country. it’s a weird quirk, I know.
Educational Background: I went to high school in Vietnam and moved to Sydney when I was 16 to attend university. I really did not know what I wanted to do but I did know that I did not want to sit at a desk all day. So when I read the description for the media and communications degree in the university handbook I thought it sounded like fun, so why not?
I’ll be honest. That degree was a walk in the park. Although I did not graduate with flying colours or anything, I did finish with a major in writing. All we did was watch and discuss movies, current events, made presentations and submitted research papers. I’m sorry if I have offended anyone but I am not saying the degree is worthless, more that it was easy (about 2 contact hours per subject) and therefore a lot of fun too. I think one of the most memorable moments was watching Sex: The Annabel Chong story in our lecture. If you don’t know who she is, just google her (maybe when you are not at work).
After I graduated because I was still ‘young’, my dad suggested I do a post graduate degree before I started working. So I enrolled for my MBA majoring in International Marketing and something else (which for the life of me I can’t remember now). I graduated at 21 and although I was educationally prepared, I was so not prepared for the real working world and really struggled that first year. Seriously, I think universities should run also courses on working life manners, ethics and politics.
Something my parents don’t know: I actually quit my job almost 5 months before I told them I did. I really wanted to go out and prove that I would not send myself homeless and really earn some money doing my own thing before I admitted it to them.
Something most people don’t know: For a long time I felt very insignificant and unqualified because I didn’t attend a pastry school. Customers would ask and I would feel so embarrassed replying that no I am not a qualified pastry chef. I even looked at attending pastry schools, locally as well as overseas and realised that is was as long and as expensive as another degree. And was I willing to give up 2 – 3 years of my life going back to school full time? Not really. So I enrolled in Tafe part time because that seemed like a good compromise. After the first semester I realised that although I do enjoy baking and cooking, I don’t really enjoy it in the commercial environment and that what I learned in the classes had not that much relevance to what I was doing.
I signed up so that I could graduate and officially tell my customers that ‘yes I am a pastry chef’. I thought that would make me better in their eyes and that they would respect me more. What a load of crap that was! I have now come to terms with carving out a niche in the market for myself and have realised that as long as the customers like the taste of my cakes and my designs then why does it matter if I have a pastry degree or a degree in fine arts or even a degree in magic and potions?
Best thing a customer can say to me: ‘I trust you, you know best so if you think something needs to be moved around or changed, please go ahead and do it’. Oh, I’ve had a few of these types of customers and they are absolutely a dream to work with.
Worst customer experiences: I have two that stand out… The first one was a lady many years ago who wanted a last minute birthday cake because she ‘forgot’ to organise one. She called on a Wednesday asking for the cake that Sunday. I will still working full time at that time and so very new and naive so I agreed. She must have called back about 7 times haggling on the price (demanding to know why I was so expensive) and I budged a little but not much. And in the final phone call she said to me ‘ok fine, but that had better be the best tasking cake I’ve ever had’. EXCUSE ME?! I don’t respond to threats! I told her she needed to rethink if she really wanted this cake and to call me back when she was really certain. Needless to say I never heard back from her but that was the first time I can remember ever being really mad at someone.
The other one was when I dealt with a young lady for her 21st birthday. She wanted a cake with an iconic figurine on top and kept calling me to ask for specific heights and sizes for each of the cake tiers, each time saying ‘wow, that’s really small for the amount I am paying you’. So being new and all, I offered to make the cake taller through styrofoam tiers at a minimal cost at which she said ‘oh I didn’t think styrofoam would be that expensive’ (ps. it’s not the cost of the styrofoam but the labour and skill it takes to cover it.) And then in one of the last phone calls, she proceeded to tell me ‘you know I got many quotes for my cake and you are one of the more expensive ones. I like your figurines, so I chose to go with you and I hope it is worth it’. Wow seriously?
So being one of the bigger cakes I have made at that time I was so nervous. So nervous to make it absolutely perfect that I stayed up till 4 am one night and even as I tried to sleep I couldn’t. I don’t think I have ever felt that stressed and exhausted for sleep which almost made me feel physically sick.
After the whole situation, I looked back and mentally slapped myself. How could I have ever let something I loved to do stress me out to the point where I felt like I was going to sick? And for a girl’s birthday party?! Not to mention that when she picked it up she didnt even smile or say thank you. Wow. That was a big wake up call for me and my newbie attitude!
Most common question I get asked my customers who visit my studio or see me at an expo: Are all those real cakes? (gesturing to all my display cakes).
Quitting my job light bulb moment: I had many moments pushing me to take the plunge prior to this but the real moment, which I never told anyone about, came when I was sitting inside a DisneyLand ride. (I should mention here that I really hate roller coasters and get motion sick pretty easily). Nick and I lined up for a space simulator ride and as we got to the front the guys gave us two options. The easy one (where only the screen moved and the seat shakes a little so you pretend you are going into space) or the hard one (where the ride actually spins like mad so you feel the g-forces). I wanted the easy one but Nick insisted on the hard one because the easy one would be no fun. So we got shuffled along into the hard line and the whole time I was freaking out a little because of all the warning signs they had listed on the walls (Warning: this ride is not suitable for people with weak hearts or who are susceptible to motion sickness…etc).
We got into the tiny capsule and the padded bars clipped down on us. I was freaking out even more because I now could not move but didn’t want to look like a scaredy cat running out of the ride at the last minute so I held my breath and stayed in there. It was dark and tight inside and the attendent’s voice came over the speakers telling us about the emergency button to press incase we wanted to stop the ride and definitely not to shut our eyes or else we will feel really sick. As the count down to the ride started I really started to panic and I even started to look for that emergency button, but could not find it! So I had to suck it up and stick it out. I told myself repeatedly that it was only a 5 minute ride and made a promise to myself then and there that if I could get through that without having a panic attack that I would be able to get through anything, namely quitting my job.
The thing I love about weddings: The food, desserts and especially the speeches. I love the speeches because when done well they really make the whole event so personal and heartfelt.
The thing I dislike the most about weddings: The bouquet toss. To my friends and everyone else, let me put a disclaimer here by saying I’m sorry if you had one or will have one but this is an unmarried girl’s opinion.
Although I know it’s tradition, I really dislike it because it makes me feel like there is something wrong with me for being unmarried. So much so that I have to go and ‘fight’ with other unmarried women for a bouquet that is supposed to symbolise that I will be the next one to tie the knot. And it’s not just single people who have to participate, no, it’s ALL women who are not married. And it’s always awkward when it happens and no one makes the move to participate and the poor brides maids have to run around and gather all the unmarried women in the room and heard them into the middle of the room like cattle. And then it’s even WORSE when you are trying to avoid the whole situation and people on your table and on the next table start looking out for you and pointing at you and calling your name. I suppose it’s fun for the bride and all and it is her special day but I am a little tired of having the whole room know I am not married. So my tip? I always choose to stand behind the tallest person and at the back and off to the side. Or I decide at that moment I need to go to the bathroom.
My love/ hate relationship with this industry: I secretly thrive on a little bit of jealousy and competition. I know it’s bad and some people can be really ruthless and mean when driven by jealousy. But when it’s me, I believe a little jealousy is actually good for me. It pushes me to innovate, work harder, design better and strengthen my skills. I wouldn’t be where I am today (skills wise) if I had not gotten a little jealous here and there 😉